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The hard truth of the matter is that pretty much anything and everything we do to our hair—color it, brush it, style it—takes a toll on our tresses. And of all the many factors that contribute to hair damage, heat styling, and the frustrating dullness and dehydration that can result, just may be one of the worst. The good news? It’s also super easy to prevent this type of damage. No, you don’t need to give up your beloved hair dryer or curling iron.
All you have to do is make sure you prep your strands with a good heat protectant. Many of the most effective ones will not only keep flyaways to a minimum but add moisture and help fortify strands against frequent heat styling. Think of these as sunscreen for your hair—an essential protective step to ensure your hair stays soft, strong, and healthy. “Heat protectants act as a protective barrier between your hair and a hot tool, protecting it from burning, drying out, and becoming dull. A heat protectant will help smooth the cuticle and leave hair looking shiny and healthy,” explains Chicago-based celebrity hairstylist Alex Brown.
Meet the Expert
Alex Brown is a celebrity hairstylist and Chicago-based salon owner, who also divides her time between NYC and LA. A former assistant to Jen Atkin, Alex has styled hair across the world, and her celebrity work includes Kendall Jenner, Hailey Baldwin, Bella Hadid, and Olivia Culpo.
John Pulitano is a hairstylist and the co-owner and creative director of Headcase Hair, a salon in Sydney, Australia. He’s been working in the fashion space for over a decade, and you can find his work in various magazine editorials, advertorials, and on the runways of all the international Fashion Weeks.
Now that we’ve convinced you of their importance, read on for the best heat protectants below.
Best Overall: Living Proof Restore Instant Protection Spray
Active Ingredient: Octafluoropentyl Methacrylate (OFPMA) | Hair Type: All | Size: 5.5 fl. oz | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
We love the heat protection this lightweight spritz delivers, but we also love its versatility. It can go on wet or dry hair (the perfect option when you want to use your straightener for a quick touch-up on second-day hair)—plus, it even works as a UV protectant, too. Also nice: It delivers mirror-like shine, no matter which way you use it.
What Our Testers Say
"After using this product, there was an instantaneous shift in how healthy and shiny my hair looked." — Ashley Rubell, Product Tester
Best Budget: Pantene Pro-V Nutrient Boost Heat Primer Thermal Heat Protection
Active Ingredient: Vp/ Methacrylamide/Vinyl Imidazole Copolymer | Hair Type: Fine, thin | Size: 6.4 fl. oz | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No
Maybe you use hot tools daily and go through protective products like water, or maybe you just don’t like to spend big bucks on your haircare routine. Either way, this drugstore staple is choice. Mist it all over pre-styling and let the protective polymers in the formula do their thing, protecting hair from temps up to 450 degrees.
Best for Dry Hair: Leonor Greyl Lait Luminescence Bi-Phase Detangling Milk Styling Spray
Active Ingredients: Coconut alkanes, calodendrum capense oil, schinziophyton rautanenii kernel oil, helianthus annuus seed oil | Hair Type: Dry | Size: 5.2 fl. oz | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
You can tell this is going to be a good pick for dehydrated tresses just by the very name of it. Indeed, the creamy spray is oil-based to impart plenty of moisture and condition hair, but it also acts as a great detangler, and, of course, a heat protectant. FYI, it does have a strong scent, which can be a turnoff for some.
Best for Thick Hair: Bumble and Bumble Hairdresser’s Invisible Oil Heat & UV Protective Primer
Active Ingredients: Shea butter, grape seed oil, sweet almond oil, macadamia integrifolia seed oil, coconut oil | Hair Type: Straight to curly | Size: 8.5 fl. oz | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No
As the name suggests, this product is packed with rich oils (coconut, argan, and macadamia, to name a few) to hydrate and soften even super thick or coarse hair. It also works well to tamp down frizzies and guards against both heat and UV damage, all without leaving behind any kind of unwanted residue.
Best for Relaxed Hair: Moroccanoil Perfect Defense Heat Protectant
Active Ingredients: Argan oil, Octylacrylamide/Acrylates/Butylaminoethyl Methacrylate Copolymer | Hair Type: All | Size: 6 fl. oz | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Despite the fact that rich argan oil is the key ingredient here, this aerosol spray is surprisingly dry and weightless, which makes it a great pick for relaxed hair. It contains conditioning panthenol, too, and boasts an addicting signature scent that’s so good it'll make you reach for the product daily.
Best for Curly Hair: Mielle Organics Mongongo Oil Thermal & Heat Protectant Spray
Active Ingredients: Sweet almond oil, sacha inchi oil, argan oil, mongongo oil | Hair Type: All | Size: 4 fl. oz | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
No matter whether you’re blow-drying and straightening your naturally curly texture or are using an iron to add definition to your spirals, heat protectants are especially important for those with curly hair. Enter this pick, which relies on a combo of organic oils to shield strands from heat, add shine, and smooth out frizz.
Best for Colored Hair: Pureology Color Fanatic Multi-Tasking Leave-In Spray
Active Ingredients: Coconut oil, camelina oil, olive oil | Hair Type: All | Size: 13.5 fl. oz | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
Water is hair color’s worst enemy, but heat is a close second. (Not to mention that the more heat-damaged your hair is, the less it'll be able to absorb color evenly.) This spritz packs a whopping 21 benefits, including, of course, color preservation and heat protection, and works great for all hair types and textures.
Best for Frizzy Hair: Briogeo Farewell Frizz Blow Dry Perfection & Heat Protectant Crème
Active Ingredients: Rosa canina fruit oil, argan oil, coconut oil | Hair Type: All | Size: 4 fl. oz | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
While this is a good pick for all hair types, it’s an especially great option for those constantly combatting flyaways. Rosehip oil in the formula balances moisture levels (the secret to warding off frizz), while argan and coconut oils further hydrate and smooth. Plus, the cream consistency is a nice change for those with thicker strands who may find sprays to be too light. Just use one or two quarter-size dollops, based on the length and texture of your hair.
Best for Damaged Hair: Olaplex No.7 Bonding Oil
Active Ingredients: Bis-aminopropyl diglycol dimaleate, grape seed oil | Hair Type: All | Size: 1 fl. oz | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
Heat protectants are a must for preventing future tress stress, but if the damage has already been done and your hair is in need of some extra TLC, reach for this reparative and heat protecting oil. Like all of the Olaplex products (which Byrdie editors rave about, BTW), it works by targeting and repairing the broken protein bonds in the hair. In short, strands are left smoother, softer, shinier, stronger, and with more vibrant color.
Best Multi-Tasking: Living Proof Restore Perfecting Spray
Active Ingredients: Octafluoropentyl Methacrylate (OFPMA), beet root extract | Hair Type: All | Size: 8 fl. oz | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
Yes, another option from Living Proof made it on this list—the brand is just that good at creating protective products. This one is choice for those who like to score multiple benefits from one product; it acts as a strengthening leave-in conditioner, smoothing detangler, and heat protectant, all in one. Unlike its aforementioned counterpart, it’s a spray, not an aerosol, which is ideal for those who may be avoiding aerosols for environmental reasons.
Best for Blowouts: Redken Pillow Proof Blow Dry Express Primer Cream
Active Ingredients: Trisiloxane, glycerin, polyacramide | Hair Type: All | Size: 5 fl. oz | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No
For those who reach for their blow dryer daily, this is an absolute must. Not only does it offer the requisite heat protection (for up to 450 degrees), it even works to reduce blow-dry time. You get out the door faster and your hair is subjected to heat for a shorter amount of time—that’s what we call a win-win. Plus, it works as a great styler, too, imparting plenty of smoothness and shine to your blowout.
Best for Straightening: Garnier Fructis Flat Iron Perfector Straightening Mist
Active Ingredients: Castor oil, argan oil | Hair Type: All | Size: 6 fl. oz | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
Meanwhile, if it’s a flat iron that you reach for every morning, this is the product for you. It too safeguards strands from temperatures up to 450 degrees and has the added benefit of keeping your newly straightened style smooth and sleek for up to 48 hours. Simply mist it evenly onto dry hair before you hit it with the iron.
The Living Proof Restore Instant Protection is one of our favorite multi-tasking styling products in general, and indeed, offering exceptional heat protection is just one of the many benefits it offers. (Plus, it can go on dry strands, making it ideal for second-day heat styling.) As far as drugstore options go, the Pantene Pro-V Nutrient Boost Heat Primer Thermal Heat Protection is a stand-out wallet-friendly pick, boasting the same level of protection (up to 450 degrees) as many of its pricier counterparts. A heat protectant is an absolute non-negotiable if you have damaged hair; try the Olaplex No7 Bonding Oil. And if you’re all about a daily blowout, consider the Redken Pillow Proof Blow Dry Express Primer, which both protects against heat and speeds up dry time to further minimize damage.
What to Look For In a Heat Protectant
While they’re more often thought of as a skincare ingredient, humectants—hydrating ingredients that attract moisture—can be super beneficial in hair care, and are especially good to look for in a heat protectant, says Brown. After all, more moisturized hair equals healthier hair. Glycerin and hyaluronic acid are two good ones to look for.
According to Brown, it’s also a good idea to look for strengthening ingredients in a heat protectant—they're an added layer of defense against any heat-induced damage. Things such as amino acids, keratin, and wheat protein are all good options.
How should you use a heat protectant?
John Pulitano, hairstylist and creative director of Headcase Hair, recommends using heat protectants as the first step of your hair care routine post-wash. “Spray liberally onto damp hair before using any other styling products, such as volumizer or smoothing lotions, and then continue with your styling routine,” he says.
Using one on dry hair? “Be sure to apply it thoroughly, as well,” he says. “I like to hold the product about 30cm [about a foot] away so I can get a nice even coating, but no stickiness.”
How important is using a heat protectant?
If you’ll be doing any sort of heat styling, whether blow drying or using hot tools, Pulitano considers heat protectants to be an essential step in your routine—“especially for colored and damaged hair types. But really, every single person should be using one.” He recommends reaching for products that are lightweight and won’t leave a sticky residue in your hair.
Why Trust Byrdie
Byrdie contributor Melanie Rud has over a decade of experience in the beauty industry, writing for some of the biggest magazines and websites out there. While she doesn’t blow-dry her hair often, she always, always, always uses a heat protectant anytime she does so (with both fine and lightened hair, the last thing she wants is more damage). You can always find the Living Proof Restore spray in her bathroom cabinet.